Is it possible to feel pride and embarrassment simultaneously?
I say, “Yes.”
The year ending today marks the most consistent stretch of time in my life for a regular habit of Bible-reading. I read and journaled for 347 days in the past 365–for me, that’s a major improvement over any earlier year of life.
A slight sense of achievement is present because it’s about time that I established this habit. A slight sense of shame is also present because it’s about time that I established this habit.
(If you thought that preachers or pastors were born were with some daily-devotional gene, then I have one of two replies for you. 1) You’re so wrong. Or 2) You’re right, but I’m a mutant freak preacher, so the point is moot.)
But more than post about my success or shortcoming, I simply wanted to mention a handful of helpful bits I learned about myself and habits in this process…
- There’s nothing tough about reading my Bible or exercising or going to bed at a suitable time or getting up as early as I should or saving my money or flossing my teeth or any of the other thousand good habits I should have. The only hard part is doing them CONSISTENTLY! For those once-in-a-while habits, I’m gold. Unfortunately, none of the habits worth anything fall into that category.
- “First things first.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this phrase or seen it illustrated in creative ways, but it is most certainly true that the things I put at the top of my list DO happen. Regardless of how long my list gets, I ALWAYS get the top few items checked off. The obvious point? Be planned and careful and intentional about what you slot into those top positions.
- A pre-set plan makes a world of difference. If I’d had to decide what I was going to read everyday when I opened my Bible, my success rate would have plummeted. Same for exercise or budgets. (If I really believe this principle to be true, it’s got me wondering why I don’t yet use a Prayer Book of some sort to give some structure to my still sporadic prayer habits.)
- More than I might care to admit, I am a creature of habit. Most of the stretches of missed readings came during “irregular times” such as vacations or long weekends or other times of messy life routines.
- Habits work best when joined to others’ lives. My Scripture reading was enriched in both quality and quantity when the readings were part of conversations I was having, planned or unplanned. For most of the year, a bi-weekly men’s breakfast group was part of my routine. Every time, our conversation revolved around our past week of readings. For parts of the year, some form of evening discussion group was also part of my schedule. Any thoughts that habits are strictly private matters could be erased by even a couple weeks of experimenting with this. Still unsure? Ask the exerciser if it’s easier to stick to it alone or with a work-out partner. It’s a no-brainer.
- As vital as routine is for me, variety is also key. My reading schedule, while orderly and sensible, also kept me moving. Some NT, some OT, some poetry, some narrative, some prophecy–my mind was constantly needing to adjust and shift as we went. Pattern and structure without monotony–that’s the balance I need.
- I am constantly tempted to squeeze “other things” ahead of the priorities I claim as those on top. There is always something “really important” that needs attention right now Some insightful moments throughout 2009 led me to learn that most of this is BS. It is too easy to be derailed by what appears urgent, while the truly important gets bumped yet again. Some of us function with elite skill levels at setting critical items aside in exchange for distractions. This is a bad skill to have developed.
- A part of me detests structure. Some little anarchist reigns in one corner of my heart, shouting out that routine is rigid and that life is meant to be lived more loosely. The problem for this little character is that a growing majority of my divided self is awakening to the truth that nothing worth anything grows in structureless soil. It is practice and discipline and self-control and routine that birth beautiful fruit, and I am slowly but increasingly surrendering myself to that truth.
- Journaling is a great habit. I’m attempting to tie it to my Scripture readings just enough to be useful without getting bogged down in it.
- I am aware of the stats that say that it takes around 28 days to develop a new habit. I am also aware of the reality that it takes about 2 days to effectively kill a hard-earned new habit. So while I dream that I’m now completely rehabilitated from my poor devotional disciplines of the past, I’m no longer that naive. I intend to battle through 2010, reliving everyday most of what just filled this blog post. I don’t suppose the road of discipline and godliness ever gets as easy as I dream it should. I’ll plug along all the same.